By Randall Osborne

West Coast Editor

Taking aim at up to 10 enzyme targets in cancer and infectious disease, the Canadian firm MethylGene Inc. entered a research and license agreement to design small-molecule inhibitors with ChemBridge Research Laboratories LLC.

Montreal-based MethylGene will use its arsenal including molecular biology, rational drug design, enzymology and medicinal chemistry, plus high-throughput screening, with CRL¿s combinatorial synthesis, medicinal chemistry and lead optimization abilities.

MethylGene gets a license to any compounds developed through the preclinical and clinical work it does as part of the deal, and San Diego-based CRL gets access fees, milestone payments and royalties on the products. Financial details were not disclosed.

¿We¿re getting access to a significant number of compounds out of their libraries, and we can look at computer screens of their structures and test them with our assays,¿ said Donald Corcoran, president and CEO of MethylGene. ¿If we were to partner with someone, they would participate in some of the money we would get from the partner.¿

Jeff Besterman, senior vice president of research and development for MethylGene, told BioWorld Today that CRL is made up of ¿experts in generating combinatorial libraries, but their business model was that they would make the compounds and sell them, in essence. They wouldn¿t participate in downstream rewards or profits.¿

This deal, Corcoran said, is different.

¿They¿re going to get more involved in the process where they want to, and we¿re going to let them,¿ he said.

Sven Wagner, associate director of business development for CRL, acknowledged that the deal with MethylGene is ¿one of the first¿ such agreements.

¿We believe very much that we can capture more such collaborations, because of the demands of the market,¿ he said. ¿This is not just sweatshop chemistry.¿

CRL is a spin-off from ChemBridge Corp., Wagner said, which lists ¿more kinds of service types of agreements with the elite in the pharmaceutical industry. We have a very strong position with targeted libraries,¿ he added, pointing to a recent deal with Tularik Inc., of South San Francisco, for undisclosed novel therapeutics. (See BioWorld Today, Dec. 4, 2001.)

MethylGene, with 70 staffers, including 25 chemists and 25 biologists, raised $18.6 million to support its research and development efforts of MG98, an mRNA inhibitor partnered in North America with MGI Pharma Inc., of Minneapolis. The compound is in Phase II trials, and MethylGene has about three years of cash, Corcoran said.